At the most recent Stanford Biodesign’s “From the Innovator’s Workbench” lecture series, the second of its 20th anniversary year, three high-powered women health tech leaders opened up about pivotal moments in their recent successes in bringing pioneering new technologies to patients.
Erica Rogers, CEO of Silk Road Medical; Leslie Trigg, CEO of Outset Medical; and Bess Weatherman, special limited partner at Warburg Pincus, shared insights with interviewer David Cassak of MedTech Strategist in the webinar, which was sponsored by Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati and Fogarty Innovation.
As David shared during his introduction, “These extremely successful CEOs have great stories to tell, but what makes them even more special is that they all intersect at some point.” Indeed, they do, as Bess was part of the team that helped connect them with their CEO positions and fund their devices.
Finding the right technology to fund
Bess joined the health care group at Warburg Pincus straight out of the Stanford Graduate School of Business and a number of successful investments followed. What she looked for in companies to fund was the potential to build growth businesses of scale whose value would truly move the needle on the returns of a large fund. And she stressed, they weren’t interested in technology that was looking for a market; it had to address a major unmet clinical need in a way that a pharmaceutical solution wouldn’t. That eventually led her to the companies that are now led by Erica and Leslie, which addressing huge unmet needs.
Silk Road creates a new path for carotid stenting
With Silk Road Medical, it was an innovative procedure to treat carotid artery disease that appealed to Bess. The company needed a new CEO so she recruited Erica Rogers after being deeply impressed by her appearance on a panel. At the time, Erica was “happily” employed at the chief operating officer of Medicines360, a nonprofit pharmaceutical company advancing the cause of access to contraception for women, after having worked in startups and at Boston Scientific. But she recognized there was something special about the company, which at the time was just starting clinical trials.
She was attracted to the fact that the procedure was binary—it was either going to work or not. She recognized there would be other hurdles too, including scaling it commercially, but the major one was reimbursement. That led to a novel reimbursement strategy, which paved the way to commercialization and the eventual public offering.
Rather than introduce a new reimbursement code, Silk Road decided to work within the confines of the existing coverage landscape for carotid revascularization procedures, finding an extremely narrow path that satisfied all the constituents and earned them coverage in late 2016. Additionally, they had already been able to bring vascular surgeons on board by putting the device in their hands rather than moving it to a new specialty. With those pieces in place, Silk Road was on its way to success.
Outset Medical revolutionizes dialysis
Like Erica, Leslie had also impressed Bess in a professional setting, and the Warburg Pincus team brought her in as an executive-in-residence to leverage her experience and help them evaluate new opportunities. Leslie joined Outset when the company needed a new CEO. One of the first things she did was visit a patient who was dialyzing at home with the incumbent device, the only one available at the time for home use.
The process was cumbersome, and Leslie was surprised there had not been more innovation in a field that affected so many. With her background in cardiology, Leslie saw an opportunity to dramatically improve the delivery of care using a really unique device.
The design vision was to combine the functionality of several different dialysis machines and a large water treatment room into a single mobile console, something that had never been done before. The team also decided early on to incorporate two-way wireless data transmission and a proprietary data analytics platform to benefit both providers and patients. The engineering challenge proved more difficult than she initially expected. The first generation of the device was extremely popular with patients and nurses, yet it had one major flaw: it wasn’t reliable enough. They remodeled the inside from scratch and soon had a winner.
Success starts at the top
As the panel wrapped up, there was a message of hope for fellow entrepreneurs as Bess shared that there were times she wondered—despite their eventual success—if the companies and devices would make it. But perseverance and creativity won, and both companies have since completed IPOs, with the goal of raising capital to fund their continued growth.
The secret to their success? In Bess’ eyes, “Neither of these companies would be where they are if it not for these two CEOs.”